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As Michael Kimmel, perhaps America's foremost sociologist of masculinity, pointed out last month, Millennials are far more likely than their older peers to see non-sexual friendship between men and women as normal.
Kimmel notes that in 1989, the year that —with its famous dismissal of the possibility of platonic intimacy between men and women—was released, only about 10 percent of his college students would admit to having a close friend of the other sex.
As a result, people are more able to connect with someone simply as a person rather than as a (sexually attractive) man or woman." When it comes to navigating cross-sex friendships in marriage, secular folk could learn a thing or two from their evangelical Christian peers.
As popular young writer and speaker Jonalyn Fincher put it, "If Jesus pursued and enjoyed female friends, then Christians have theological precedent for pursuing and enjoying cross-sex friendships." On the other hand, most Christians think Jesus wasn't married, and neither (as far as we know) were the women to whom he was closest. A married man and a single woman (or vice-versa), or a married woman and a married man other than her husband?
As the speakers at the conference repeatedly lamented, evangelicals are like "everyone else" in their near-monolithic distrust of cross-sex friendships outside of marriage. The cultural consensus is that Packard got it right: that's a guarantor of flirtatious excitement at best, inevitable infidelity at worst.
While the age at first marriage continues to rise among the unchurched, large numbers of conservative Christians continue to wed in their early twenties.
For many, that means forming their first truly adult friendships after marriage, or for single Christians, with opposite-sex friends who are already hitched.